OUR TWINNING EXPERIENCE OF 2015
At 6.30 on Friday 1st May, 40 Houdanais arrived at the Village Hall, to be greeted by a rousing rendering of La Marseillaise by Pangbourne Silver Band, and a very warm welcome from all the hosts present. There was instant disappointment from the French that the Royal Baby had not yet arrived, but this was mitigated by drinks, copious kissing (on both cheeks) and plenty of rusty French. The whole heralded a weekend which, according to Twinning old timers, was to be one of the best.
On Saturday morning Antonia des Forges, accompanied by a French-speaking friend who is a Blue Badge guide, took our visitors on a ‘Middleton Tour’ of the Pang Valley, preceded by an extensive visit to Douai Abbey, kindly hosted by Father Oliver. The arrival of The Baby during the morning was the icing on the cake as the coach drove down The Avenue at Chapel Row and on to St Andrew’s School.
The tour ended at Bradfield College, and a ‘bring and share’ lunch at the College pavilion. The weather was kind, the buffet delicious and the views of the Pang Valley from the terrace stunning in their peace and tranquility, especially with many of the boys and girls away at home for the weekend. Much interest was generated amongst the French by the start of cricket matches, and there was a certain initial reluctance to be torn away from trying to understand the basics of cricket. We disappeared into the College Chapel for a brief organ recital of French music by our Bradfield host, Colin Burgess.
A tour of the College followed, with the French initially sceptical at being shown round a school, but increasingly surprised as they were shown a Victorian classroom still in use, the 1856 dining hall in the form of a traditional tithe barn, complete with portraits of previous headmasters on its walls, and numerous period buildings. Incredulity increased as they saw the outside of boarding houses, where 50+ boys or girls live, and realised that most of the 750 pupils actually live in the school. However, Bradfield’s unique and newly restored Greek theatre was altogether too much – a Greek tragedy performed by pupils? In Greek? In a converted lime pit? In the open air? In English weather? Mon dieu! After they had been exposed to the intricacies of the Cadet Force, and shown the Art School that used to be the Village Primary School, they were eager to continue their cricketing education. The match they had watched earlier was now well under way, as they looked for an explanation (in French) of the intricacies of the scoreboard, followed by some field placings. Jambe longue (Long leg) sort of made sense, but jambe carée (Square leg) was definitely on the limit, and how, for the uninitiated, does one render ‘Silly mid-off’ in any language? After tea and cake in a delightful meeting room that, so they were informed, had once been an indoor swimming pool, we left the College. The Houdanais were fascinated, but what sort of prejudices about the English and madness were confirmed by their visit was not revealed.
Sunday morning found the Committee plus helpers engaged in the vigorous and increasingly frantic conversion of the first floor hall in the Dolphin Centre into a reception and dining room in time for our formal lunch. Excellent work on the Internet by Amana and John Winchester had produced delightful table and place settings using English spring flowers, charmingly complementing the impressive view down the Thames towards Purley. 74 diners sat down to a meal prepared by Fiona Ambler which was so delicious that, surely a rare accolade, she was asked by some of the French for her recipes. During the ensuing speeches Jacques Pflieger, as Président du Comité de Jumelage de Houdan, presented Amana, on behalf of Pangbourne Twinning Association, with a pewter commemorative plate inscribed “Jumelage Houdan-Pangbourne 1er au 4 mai 2015”. After very grateful thanks had been expressed to hosts, all present helped in a rapid clear-up, and then went their many ways for the rest of the day.
9.30 on Monday morning saw the Primary School playground heaving with people. The quality and quantity of the spoken French had improved over the weekend, and so too had the kissing, with Pangbourne well-wishers now firmly into the routine: at least once on both cheeks, and twice overall, once to say ‘Bonjour’ and once to say ‘Au revoir’, with, on occasion, a third time, just for luck. An exhausting 40 minutes later and the French were on their way, after a weekend that was thoroughly enjoyed by all who took part.